Repeated concerns have been expressed that expropriation without compensation – especially of commercial farming property – could start to drive farmers off the land. And, while that is a serious threat, there is an even more worrying danger that our food producers may quit simply because they can no longer make a living off the land.
That is one of the stark realities which is getting lost in the debate on expropriation.
Farming has always been a tough occupation, and an even tougher business. But today, many producers say they are being squeezed from both sides – what they must spend on their crops and what they get paid for them – to such an extent that they are either throwing in the towel or considering doing so.
The Milk Producers Organisation (MPO) sounded the alarm loudly this week by pointing out that dairy farmers were seeing a decline in the producer prices of their products of a significant 5.5% since March this year. At the same time, though, the ex-factory prices of dairy product (and effectively what we pay as consumers) have increased by 2.2% in the same period.
Something is not right here. If ex-factory prices are rising, and the increases are not trickling down to farmers – and in fact the opposite is happening – then it appears as though the dairy production industry is increasing its profit margin. And that increase is at the expense of both farmers and consumers.
MPO chief executive Dr Chris van Dijk said a number of producers couldn’t cope with the squeeze and have left the industry.
It is obvious that we cannot afford to lose farmers: they create employment and importing food will cost us precious foreign exchange.
It is time for a commission of inquiry into our food prices and whether they are justified.